LOUISVILLE — Donovan Mitchell is an off-the-wall guy.
The University of Louisville’s athletic freak of a basketball recruit sent New Albany High School into a frenzy Friday night with a sensational dunk to cap the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Night of Future Stars. He tossed the ball some 50 feet off the wall, over several rows of baseline bleachers, then caught it off the return bounce, cocked it back and powered in a ferocious slam.
The five-star guard got huge applause and a perfect score from the panel of judges that included former Louisville greats LaBradford Smith and Peyton Siva and former Kentucky star Derek Anderson.
He got the many Louisville fans in attendance excited for the future. Mitchell, whose powerful, show-stopping dunks have spread across YouTube and Twitter, will be one of the most explosive, athletic guards to play for the Cards in recent memory. He said highlight plays are a major part of his game.
Mitchell will be a finalist – and probably the headlining attraction – at Saturday night’s dunk contest finals, to be held during halftime of the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic at Freedom Hall.
Mitchell also received a perfect score for a dunk in which he caught a ball bounced by a teammate off the side of the glass, then completed a windmill jam.
But it was Mitchell’s off-the-wall dunk that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
“It’s a great feeling in general knowing that (the fans) are there cheering you on, screaming, yelling,” he said. “I kind of feed off the energy, and once they started screaming, I knew I couldn’t miss.”
Another future Cardinal shined on Friday night as well.
McMahon, the most unheralded of U of L’s four 2015 commitments, set the 3-point shooting contest on fire with an event-record 26 points, swishing shot after shot. He advanced to Saturday’s halftime final round, where he’ll face Maryland-bound big man Diamond Stone, who surprised everyone by scoring 25, Notre Dame-bound Matt Ryan (24) and uncommitted Brandon Sampson (17).
McMahon’s long-range shooting was the primary reason Rick Pitino decided to become the first major college coach to offer him a scholarship, and McMahon showed he has that skill down pat.
“I almost air-balled my first one, but once I got on a roll, it was game over,” McMahon said. “I’m going to try to get 30 (in the final), but we’ll see.”
McMahon, Mitchell and fellow U of L recruits Raymond Spalding and Deng Adel received rousing applause when they were introduced Friday night, and the cheering will only get louder on Saturday at the actual all-star game.
“You see the atmosphere and the power of Card Nation,” McMahon said. “They’re so loyal. … I just want to show them Ryan McMahon’s game … and hopefully I can get that 3-point competition.”
The U of L recruits weren’t the only fan favorites. A big portion of the fans at New Albany applauded and celebrated Indiana University’s three commitments – four-star Missouri forwards Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby and five-star West Virginia center Thomas Bryant.
“We’re not even at Indiana yet, and they’re all so supportive,” Morgan said as he signed an autograph for a young fan. “Watching videos over the past years, I was getting goose bumps from just watching them. You could hear the fans coursing through you (at New Albany), and I can’t wait to get there next year.”
Ryan and Oklahoma State recruit Juwan Evans won the two-on-two championship.
Auburn recruit Danjel Purifoy and Arizona-bound Justin Simon – Mitchell’s backcourt mate at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire – are the other dunk-contest finalists.